Kansas City Chiefs’ Roster Review: Outside Linebacker
The Kansas City Chiefs’ offseason roster review completes the defensive side of the ball today with a look at outside linebacker. The offensive review is already done, and links to all previous posts are below. Let’s take a look at what the Chiefs have on hand at outside linebacker and compare it to the AFC West competition.
Tamba Hali is one of the game’s best, coming up with 12 sacks this past season, defending the run well and growing into a respectable cover man against short passes. Hali completed a transition from playing defensive end in a 4-3 to his role in Kansas City’s 3-4. Skeptics, including me, doubted he could do it, but he’s turned himself into a factor that every offensive coordinator must account for on every play. Justin Houston stepped into the spot on the other side and the rookie registered 5.5 sacks.
San Diego, the other 3-4 defense in the division brings bring names in Shaun Phillips and Antwan Barnes to the table, but Phillips is 30 years old and his best years are well behind him, getting only 3.5 sacks in 2011. Barnes is a strong pass rusher, with 11 sacks, although his 41 tackles is well short of Hali’s 66, suggesting problems defending the run. ESPN’s Scouts Inc. confirms this, saying that Barnes can have difficulty with a counter moves and shedding blocks when he can’t beat you by speed alone.
The 4-3 alignments of Denver and Oakland don’t allow as much freewheeling activity for the outside linebackers, but it didn’t stop the Broncos’ Von Miller from being one of the league’s elite rookies, as he got 11.5 sacks and 64 tackles. Miller joined forces with a solid player in D.J. Williams, whose 90 tackles demonstrate a nose for the ball. Williams needs work on pass coverage, but overall John Fox has to be happy with the combination he has in Denver.
Oakland’s Aaron Curry is a good run defender and the scouts give him high marks for his pursuit angles and recognition, while critiquing his pass coverage skills. With zero sacks, Curry is not a factor in pressuring the quarterback. That role belongs to Kamerion Wimbley, who had seven sacks and did a nice job defending the run. Overall, the Raider pair won’t dazzle you, but they’re solid and steady—perfect for a 4-3 scheme that relies on the defensive ends for the spectacular work.
Kansas City is going to need better play at this spot, simply because of the caliber of talent available in the division, but with Houston showing promise in his rookie year and Hali already being a top-shelf player, the best course is just to let Houston develop and see where that goes.